Saturday, June 8, 2013

Japan: Document detailing war criminal execution procedures found

A Japanese researcher has found photocopies of an official U.S. military document detailing the procedures to be followed at the 1948 execution of 7 Japanese Class-A war criminals convicted by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East.

The original 4-page document entitled "Execution of Prisoners" is kept at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Kenji Nagata, a Kansai University associate professor studying the death penalty, said he found photocopies of it at Japan's National Diet Library.

It is the 1st time that an official document showing the whole picture of the Dec. 23, 1948, hangings of the 7 executed war criminals, including wartime Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, was found.

The record corresponds with accounts of a Buddhist priest and a former senior official of the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces, who witnessed the execution at Sugamo Prison.

In addition to the document detailing the execution procedures, documents identifying the 7 criminals and bearing their fingerprints and receipts for their bodies were also found.

"The execution will be witnessed with due solemnity and carried out with military precision," says the document compiled by provost marshal Col. Victor Phelps. "Every precaution will be taken to prevent undue suffering on the part of the condemned."

It also says, "Persons in attendance will make no demonstrations and no unseemly conduct of any kind will be tolerated."

The document shows the 7, among them Koki Hirota who served as Japanese prime minister and foreign minister between 1933 and 1938, were to be notified of the time of execution on the evening of Dec. 21, 1948, and hanged at "0001 hours, or as soon thereafter as possible" on Dec. 23 that year.

The death sentence for the 7 was handed down Nov. 12, 1948.

The document, which is believed to have been compiled after the trial ended, says the executions will be "private" and that "no photographs or motion pictures will be made."

"The place of the execution will be closely and securely guarded to prevent entry of unauthorized persons or disturbances of any kind," it states.

It says the criminals "will be escorted in one group of 4 and one group of 3...from the death cells to the platform of the scaffold." Copies of their fingerprints will be "made prior to final disposition of remains," the document also states.

The document further stipulates that within 24 hours prior to the executions, "thorough tests" were to be made to "insure all necessary equipment is in excellent condition." The Sugamo Prison commanding officer prepared ropes, hoods, waist belts, arm and leg shackles, and collapse boards.

"In the event of mechanical failure of the equipment and the execution is not successfully concluded, the procedure will be repeated until the prescribed punishment has been administered," it states.

The names of 11 members of the execution party consisting of more than 20 people and 9 witnesses were listed. The names of an executioner and 3 assistant executioners were blacked out.

As detailed execution procedures were not stipulated in Japanese law at that time, the document refers to a U.S. Department of the Army pamphlet.

Nagata, who discovered the documents, said it is clear that the execution was carried out "in a unique way" due to the lack of stipulations in a Japanese law. He said some handwritten corrections in the document suggest the convicts were hurriedly hanged.

Shinsho Hanayama (1898-1995), the Buddhist priest who served as a spiritual adviser to the war criminals and witnessed the execution, wrote in his book that he heard the sounds of collapse boards at 12:01 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. on Dec. 23, 1948.

Kentaro Awaya, professor emeritus of modern Japanese history at Rikkyo University, said the document is valuable as it is the first confirmed detailed U.S. military record of the Class-A war criminal execution procedures.

Awaya said he believes the hanging of the Class-A war criminals was a special event for the Allied Forces, based on the fact that as many as 9 people witnessed the execution.

Source: The Mainichi, June 7, 2013